At the start of the season, nobody would have bet that the Raptors would be a betting favourite with few days rest before playing the Cavaliers. It’s been a major role reversal this season, and this time it’s the Cavaliers that have the one day rest before their encounter with Toronto after a hard-fought seven gamer against Indiana.
This matchup is everything the Raptors would have signed up for prior to the season. The East has gone through LeBron for the past seven seasons and the Raptors are now going up against a LeBron-led team that looks unfamiliar to his previous versions. The Cavaliers barely managed to scrape passed the Indiana Pacers and LeBron was the only Cavalier that was consistent throughout the seven game series.
If the Raptors want to continue their franchise best season, the key won’t be to expect the surrounding players around LeBron to be as abysmal like they were against the Pacers. Just going off the law of averages, it’s very unlikely that J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and even role players such as Jordan Clarkson will shoot as poorly from the field as they did in the first round. Love was also the only player not named LeBron to average more than 10 points in the series. Meanwhile, LeBron averaged 34.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists on 55 per cent shooting from the field.
Let’s be real for a second, we do not have a LeBron stopper. If we solely rely on O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles, or Pascal Siakam to stop LeBron, then we’re fooling ourselves and we should invest our hope into something else. O.G. in particular will attempt to stick to him and may do a manageable job, but LeBron is gonna LeBron and that shouldn’t affect our confidence going into the series.
You’ll hear a lot about keys to beating the Cavs, but here are the real “seven” keys to beating the Cavaliers and it has everything to do with the bench mob and nothing to do with stopping LeBron James. LeBron sat for about seven minutes a game in the first round, which puts him at 41.1 minutes per game and that leads all players in the postseason. While it is a bonus that LeBron has played the most minutes this season of any NBA player and that we may start to see him wear down against us, he won’t be playing the entire game and the Raptors must take advantage when he isn’t on the floor. In their matchup against the Pacers, the Cavaliers bench was outscored 13.4 points per 100 possessions – which is last for all playoff teams.
The most important players of this series will be the guys leading the bench mob, who tend to check in when LeBron catches his first bit of rest, at the end of the first. If Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and C.J. Miles can have the same impact they’ve had all season long on the second unit, the Raps may really pull this off.
The seven keys to moving on to the next round are really the seven minutes that we can expect LeBron to be sidelined. When LeBron left game 7 for five minutes as he dealt with cramps, the Cavaliers actually increased the lead from two to eight on the Pacers which absolutely cannot happen against the Raptors. When LeBron checked back in, the Cavaliers were comfortably ahead and the rest was history.
The Raptors are in the best position they have ever been to beat a LeBron James led team, and this opportunity may never happen again as LeBron’s free agency cloud looms. It may be now or never as the Celtics and the Sixers are poised to make huge leaps next season.
Toronto is aware of the stakes, and they’re all in to take down the King of the East. This series may add a new chapter to LeBron’s legacy or it may be something we add to our ‘first of’ trophy case – right beside winning a game 1 in the first round, or eventually right beside making it to the 2018 NBA Finals.